History 104: Western Civilization since 1648

Lecture: Origins of Modern Nationalism

Feminism click here for audio

Feminism is, by one definition, the philosophy that women are equal members of humanity to men. Certainly this idea did not emerge in the 19th century, and it can be traced much further back than Mary Wollstonecraft. But Wollstonecraft was one of the first to articulate feminist ideas in writing in the West. By 1848, American women had met at the Seneca Falls convention to demand equality, and soon the movement had focused on two areas: property rights and suffrage (the right to vote). These were based on the desire to apply Locke's (and Jefferson's) liberal ideas to women. These had been expanded in the work of Wollstonecraft, who focused on education of citizens, and Olympe de Gouges, who demanded liberal rights during the French Revolution.

19th century socialism had a profound impact on feminism, because socialists automatically allocated to women the right to be equal members of society.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Feminists within the socialist camp believed that all of society had to be reformed to obtain equality. Others believed that women's rights could be obtained within a current system, although often it was socialists who pushed the feminist agenda through the liberal system. By 1870, the most forceful liberal feminists were focusing on obtaining suffrage, the right to vote.

One example would be Richard Pankhurst, who drafted laws in England, the first permitting unmarried female heads-of-household to vote, the second a law permitting married women to control their own property. His young wife, Emmeline, became a leader of the feminist movement in England, a role she continued with two of her daughters. She experienced continual frustration trying to get Parliament to vote for suffrage; by 1905 the public had lost interest in the issue. Her solution was to use the same sort of violent protest utilized by liberal revolutionaries and socialist agitators. Willingness to restort to violence marked the difference between a suffragist and a suffragette.

book Workbook document:
Pankhurst's My Own Story (1914)
Suffrage Cartoon

This American cartoon reflects one popular concern regarding women's suffrage: that women would abandon their domestic responsibilities in favor of political life. Women's suffrage seemed to counter everything that Victorian womanhood stood for.

This conservative view ignored the fact that despite Victorian protections, many women had been participating in politics for years. They had been active in all the liberal revolutions, and in socialist and radical groups. They had influenced their husbands' votes, sometimes through their perspective as charity workers and volunteers for the poor. Emmeline Pankhurst herself had worked as a Guardian in the workhouses; in fact it was her horror at conditions there for women that turned her toward feminism.


Please keep in mind that suffrage does not mean equality; it only means the right to vote. National suffrage would be given to American women, for example, in 1919. But any efforts to obtain social or economic equality could put feminism in the radical, rather than the liberal, camp. The suffrage movement undoubtedly benefitted from having its goals seen as liberal, compared to the radical goals of the socialists. And whenever the ideal of total equality came up at the meetings of suffrage society, the goal was set aside in the interest of achieving the vote. Some radical feminists thus saw the suffrage movement as not going far enough.

So how is feminism related to modern nationalism? In many cases, the goals of liberal feminists mirrored those of liberal nationalists, desirous of making their nation one with a legitimate government reliant on its people and their political participation. Feminists frequently pointed out women's role in making the nation great, although not all supported expansionistic or imperial goals.

3. Motives for Empire ->